India vs Pakistan in T20 World Cups – a quick recap

Gladiatorial tussles between India and Pakistan such as the Australasia Cup final in 1986 are remembered by generations, but in the T20 World Cup such battles haven’t been contested for a long time.

MS Dhoni

FILE PHOTO: India captain MS Dhoni celebrates his team's victory against Pakistan during the World Twenty20 final at The Wanderers Stadium on September 24, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa.   -  Getty Images

Since the 2010s, it's been the same narrative to India-Pakistan encounters at the T20 World Cup: enormous anticipation, sell-out crowds, but a lopsided contest. Of course, fans do enjoy a thorough drubbing, but thrilling contests between the arch-rivals perhaps stay in the memory for longer. Gladiatorial tussles such as the Australasia Cup final in 1986 are remembered by generations, but in the T20 World Cup such battles haven’t been contested for a long time.

Fourteen years ago, the teams fought two epic battles in South Africa in the inaugural T20 World Cup (then called the World T20). As the shortest format of the game was still in its infancy, the tournament was perhaps a shot in the dark. It received a huge fillip thanks to India’s spectacular win in the competition – a win by a team without its major stars and under a brand new captain (M. S. Dhoni).

Both contests went down to the wire: the first was decided via a bowl-out after Pakistan and India tied the game. The Indians had the advantage going into the farcical bowl-out as they had practised it in the nets; their opponents, though, didn’t even know that a bowl-out would have to be contested to decide the winner under T20I rules. Yasir Arafat, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi bowled gingerly and paid the price for it as all three deliveries missed the stumps; on the other hand, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa and Harbhajan Singh all hit, handing India a 3-0 win - not in football or hockey, but in a cricket match. By then, however, both teams had qualified for the next stage, and so Pakistan’s loss didn’t cause it much damage in terms of its prospects in the competition.

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The see-saw battle in Durban had some cameos that tilted the scales one way or the other. Mohammad Asif’s mesmerising spell broke the back of India’s top order, Robin Uthappa’s half-century kept India in the game even as wickets fell around him, Shahid Afridi dented the middle order, while Irfan Pathan and R. P. Singh bowled economically to disallow Pakistan from galloping towards its target. Yuvraj didn’t contribute much with bat and ball, but ran Kamran Akmal out with a direct hit when Akmal had briefly stepped out of his crease at the non-strikers’ end looking for a run, a moment that could in the end have separated the two sides, so evenly fought was the contest.

The unflappable Misbah 

Asif was the player of the match, but if someone else had to be picked for his influence on the game, it had to be Misbah-ul-Haq. Misbah had been in and out of the Pakistan side in the early 2000s, and he was coming back in the team after a long time; he was picked out of nowhere for the Twenty20 quadrangular tournament in Kenya and for the subsequent World Twenty20, and he repaid the selectors’ faith by scoring 53 and nearly taking his team over the line. It was his highest score in any format in international cricket.

Twelve runs were needed to win from six deliveries, but after four deliveries, only one run was needed. Misbah had struck two boundaries off S. Sreesanth and taken a couple to tie the scores with two balls remaining. He celebrated with his batting partner and the Pakistan team in the dugout cheered as well as victory seemed now at hand. The fifth ball was a dot: He couldn’t get bat to ball off a short-of-a-length, wide delivery angling across him from around the wicket. The final delivery was another short one and this time, the ball hit the toe end of Misbah’s bat as Misbah tried to pull; since the field was brought in and the ball had travelled straight to mid-off, Misbah was run out.

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So near, yet so far.

Just 10 days later, Misbah did an encore. He rescued his team’s faltering innings once again, before falling at the final hurdle. It may not have been too difficult to move on from the defeat at Durban, but Johannesburg would have left some scars; after all, it was the final.

The final ebbed and flowed as well, much like the game at Durban. Once again, India’s innings failed to gather much momentum as wickets tumbled one after the other, this time on a pitch more suitable for a tall score. Gautam Gambhir fought a lone battle, scoring a defiant half-century to lend some respectability to India’s total.

Pathan and R. P. Singh were on fire once again, taking six wickets between them to wreck their opponents. Misbah was ready to answer his team’s SOS call, injecting some urgency at an appropriate time – when the required run-rate had climbed to 13.5 with four overs to go – as Pakistan clawed its way back. With six runs needed from four deliveries – only the 10th wicket remained to be taken – Misbah attempted an audacious ramp shot, didn’t get the leverage, and scooped the ball up; it was caught by Sreesanth at fine leg to bring curtains to an astonishing game. The image of Misbah slumping on his haunches with his head buried inside his outstretched arms would be embedded in the memory of cricket fans for ages.

Kohli’s arena 

Pakistan and India have played three more matches in T20 World Cups – in 2012, 2014 and 2016. All three of them were tame surrenders by Pakistan, and featured noteworthy performances from Virat Kohli. He remained unbeaten in all the three matches. Thanks to the political standoff between the two countries, no bilateral T20s were arranged in this period, meaning Kohli doesn’t yet possess an average against Pakistan in the format.

In the World T20 in Sri Lanka in 2012, Kohli struck an unbeaten 78 and took a wicket as India beat Pakistan by eight wickets. L. Balaji (3 for 22), R. Ashwin (2 for 16), and Yuvraj (2 for 16) were the other chief contributors in India’s win.

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Two years later, the two sides met in Dhaka. It was a strange game in which no one scored more than 36 or took more than two wickets. Kohli’s unbeaten 36 eventually got India home in a low-scoring contest.

The occasion in Kolkata in March, 2016, is perhaps more vivid, as it was marked by a visit of Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who felicitated Imran Khan – who wasn’t the Prime Minister of Pakistan then – and Amitabh Bachchan. The cricket didn’t live up to the hype, India winning by six wickets in another low scoring game. Kohli’s score: 55 not out.

Amidst all these dull affairs, the Champions Trophy final in 2017 awakened the senses a bit, as big hits and fiery spells were on display once again and the game see-sawed. It was India’s turn to surrender, against the odds, before India took revenge during the 50-over World Cup in 2019 with another dominant showing.

What will the 2020s bring? Hopefully, more cliff-hangers. They are in short supply.

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